A city in love with a river

K. V. KURMANATH | Updated on April 21, 2011

Go with the flow: The scenic River Walk in San Antonio, Texas.   -  Business Line

Alamo Fort   -  Business Line

In San Antonio, Texas, it's a joy to see the people respect and enjoy the river meandering through the city.

When you go to a new country, you inevitably look for comparisons with home, and the contrasts in culture become all too obvious. The people, the way of life and, most importantly, the respect for nature are points of interest.

On a recent visit to the historical city of San Antonio in Texas, one's attention was immediately drawn to the San Antonio river, and how the city respects and enjoys it. Thanks to the development of a beautiful River Walk, the city revels in and literally lives along the riverbank on weekends. Families converge here for morning walks, lunches and dinners.

Live and recorded music, including the magical Mexican folk music, reverberates from the eateries. With ducks and boats sailing along in the water and sparrows chirping, a walk on the paved banks, with no litter in sight, is memorable.

Musing on the Musi!

I could not help but think back despairingly, and with regret, to my home city of Hyderabad and its vandalised Musi river — once a shimmering, beautiful necklace around the city. Septuagenarians fondly recall a past in which they swam across the sparkly river and drank its clear water.

Down the years, with Hyderabad having developed into a metropolitan city, the river has virtually turned into a gutter — an outlet for drainage from houses, hotels and industry. Boats made way for a massive floating bus-stand and temples. Most of the river's ducks and sparrows vanished, and the waters increasingly turned into a dumping place for unwanted foetuses. Not a happy sight at all.

Covering our nose with a hanky or winding up our car windows, we hurriedly walk past or drive away from the river and its stench.

A River Walks into being

San Antonio residents love to take a route passing through the River Walk on their way to office, hotels or even the bus stop. The River Walk is also a major tourist attraction, drawing lakhs of visitors every year.

Interestingly, the river that appears serene and majestic today was once witness to epidemics, devastating floods and pitched battles for Independence and Civil War. The scenic River Walk was the outcome of what began as a measure against floods.

In 1939, architect Robert H. Hugman submitted a plan to the administration for ‘The Shops of Romula and Aragon', to develop floodgates at the north end, a small dam at the south end, and a tainter gate in the channel to check the flow and create pools of water.

Jack White, the owner of White Plaza Hotel, pitched for the clean-up and beautification of the river. The Mexican Businessmen's Association organised the first river parade called ‘A Venetian Night'.

Two years after work began on the river project, walkways and passes to the roads were completed. Hotels came up quickly along the banks. Shopping malls, small and big, were added too. Also present are a wide variety of eateries.

Businesses in the city formed an association that promotes River Walk. It has roped in elderly citizens to function as tourist guides, and developed facilities for boat rides.

Mexican in the air

This historic city reverberates with the sounds, sights and smells of Mexican culture. Walk straight into a tap dance at the Mexican market where, on weekends, a local troupe enthrals visitors with performances on a wooden platform.

The Alamo fort provides a glimpse into the heroic struggle of natives against the Mexican army in the 1830s.

Though very small compared to the large and imposing forts in India, the Alamo fort inspired the settlers, Texans and those from the rest of the US (when Texas was still not a part of the United States) to fight against the marauders from Mexico. A museum at the fort recreates the story of the Texan Revolution.

The city also boasts one of the tallest towers in the US — the 740-ft Tower of Americas, which provides a grand view of the city and its suburbs.

Published on April 21, 2011

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